Learning In the Garden





I've written about using environment and the arts as integrating contexts.  Today, agriculture!  There are things growing all over our campus:  trees, flowering plants, fruits, vegetables, shrubs, and weeds.  That's right!  Weeds!  I ate a weed today.  We had a botanist on campus today looking for edible weeds that she will be using for her presentation at Learnapalooza (a CHCS Foundation fund raiser on the CHCS campus on Saturday, August 1).  She found some purslane (last picture above) by the food services area (affectionately known as "The Lunchbox").  When eaten fresh, purslane has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant.  It actually tasted really good!

The other pictures above are plants growing on our campus.  The corn plants growing in the grass are most likely there unintentionally.  The seed was sown and plants grew.  It wasn't planned and it wasn't intentional, but there is growth and, if watered and fed and allowed to grow, will yield beautiful ears of corn that will be enjoyed with a meal.  That's what is called "unconscious competence."
The tomato plant was planted intentionally.  I hope that it was planted from a seed and that the students were able to see it grow over the last weeks of school.  It was planned and it was intentional and, as you can see, there is fruit growing from it that will one day be delicious on a BLT.  That's what is called "conscious competence."
The sunflower plant could go either way.  The interesting thing I found about the sunflower is that it appears to have already become food for some animal.  The top is eaten off.  I suppose that tastes good to an animal, but what I look forward to are the seeds it produces.
Each of these plants tells a story that's important to us.  As a group they tell us that agriculture is an important integrating context on our campus and in the Chatt Hills community.  I hope to see plants growing inside our classrooms and in our outdoor classrooms and everywhere.  I hope to see flowering plants, evergreens, fruit-bearing plants, and vegetable plants.  I hope to see our students planting seeds, watering, weeding, observing, recording, photographing, harvesting, and eating what they grow.  I hope to see 6th graders stopping to see what 3rd graders are growing and vice versa.  I hope to see local farmers and botanists and agriculturalists on our campus often.  I hope to see our students visiting local farms often.  I hope to see children learn:
·         Science.  Talk about the life cycle of a plant. What does it need to grow? Ask questions about environmental aspects—what will happen if it gets too cold, rains too much or not enough? Which seeds grow faster?
  • Math. Many math skills can be involved in planting a garden, such as measuring the space, counting seeds, spacing the seeds or plants, or comparing the sizes of seeds.
  • Art. Children can draw pictures of plants or possibly make a series of pictures of the vegetable or fruit from a seed as it grows to a full plant. They can make their own row markers by drawing a picture of the plant on a piece of paper or cardstock, then covering it with clear contact paper.
  • Language & Reading. Many libraries have books about gardening that parents can read with their children. Look at seed catalogs and let children help choose what to plant. As it gets closer to harvest time, help them look for recipes that might use items they have grown.

Here are other ways children can learn from gardening activities:

  • Making a scrapbook of pictures, drawings, stories, and other artwork can help children tell the story of their efforts at gardening.
  • Children can gain a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from caring for something over time.
  • Children learn patience and responsibility as they learn that plants take time to mature and will do much better if watered and weeded properly.
  • As part of harvesting products from the garden, children can learn compassion by giving surplus food to a food pantry, shelter, or needy family.
(From "Ways to Help Children Learn From Gardening" by Maudie Kelly)
Purslane teaches us that even the lessons we teach that we think didn't go well can have great results even so.  The corn plant teaches that the unplanned, emergent curriculum has great value.  The tomato plant teaches that careful planning of lessons is also important and bears much fruit.  The sunflower teaches that students may glean something from our teaching that we didn't intend, but has great meaning to them.
That's why rigor is so important in our teaching and in students' learning.  We must plan rigorously and subsequently teach with rigor so that students can learn from a rigorous curriculum.  We also must work rigorously to let go and let the curriculum emerge from the students' questions, ideas, interests, discoveries, curiosity, and passions.